Successful entrepreneurs know what it’s like to do everything and be responsible for everything.
Startup life is never dull, but it requires hard work and commitment.
Most of them started out small, maybe in a home office or small storefront, and they spent those first weeks and months fulfilling every role from clerk to purchasing officer to custodian. They know what it’s like when business suddenly picks up, necessitating long, draining hours. And they know what it’s like when things are slow and they second-guess every decision.
Entrepreneurs are visionaries. And CEOs are too. But there are key differences between the two roles, and at some point, it’s necessary to shift from the startup mindset to treating the business as a thriving, growing, living entity.
You Can’t Do It All Indefinitely while Scaling Up
Of course, in many professional fields, it is possible to be a solo proprietor and to love it. Many solo entrepreneurs make a career out of law, accounting, tailoring, engineering, and many other professions. But the entrepreneur who envisions a business scaling up beyond what can be done in a backyard workshop or single-person office must realize that there will come a day when they can no longer fill all roles.
Differences Between Entrepreneur Mode and CEO Mode
There’s no singular “correct” time to make the transition from entrepreneur to CEO, but the need usually makes itself apparent. Some people choose to make the transition once they hire people to take care of tasks that they used to do themselves. Others may choose to go from startup mode to CEO mode when their business adds a second location.
The key is that as CEO, you spend less time in the proverbial weeds getting things done and more time stepping back and making strategic decisions. This requires having a trusted team in place to take care of day-to-day operations. When this happens, there are many benefits to making a graceful exit from entrepreneur mode.
Why You Must Let Go of Startup Mode
Becoming a leader is a bit like raising children. At some point, you must step back and trust that your team knows what to do.
By refusing to step back from the entrepreneurial role, you risk missing the big picture of how your business fits into its industry and community. And you risk micromanaging your staff and ultimately alienating them. It’s not easy at first to put your absolute trust in your team, but until then, you can’t gain the perspective you need to see how your business should grow and how to make it happen.
Executive coaching can help the entrepreneur who is having difficulty making the transition from doing to leading. In fact, executive coaches frequently work with clients who want to put their skills, talents, and experiences to work leading, but who don’t know how. If you know it’s time for you to change from being the startup founder of your business to being its CEO, executive coaching can help you make that change successfully.
You Can Hire a CEO if You’re Not Cut Out for the Role
Some entrepreneurs ultimately conclude that they’re not cut out for the CEO role, and that’s OK too. But that doesn’t mean the company doesn’t need one. Hiring a CEO is a big step, but for some entrepreneurs, it is the right one. In these cases too, executive coaching can be employed to bring the new CEO up to speed. Executive coaches in these situations will rely upon the wisdom and experience of the entrepreneur to help the new CEO develop appropriate goals that align with those of the company.
Both entrepreneurs and CEOs need vision, commitment, passion, and drive. But how they employ those characteristics differ. Your startup business won’t be a startup forever, and when the time comes for it to scale up appreciably, it’s also time for a CEO. Many entrepreneurs make the transition to CEO with great finesse, but for many, it doesn’t come naturally. In those cases, executive coaching can help.
Great companies require great leadership, and the nature of that leadership changes depending on many factors, including how new or old the company is, and its long-term goals. I invite you to learn more about leadership coaching, however new or established your business is. Strong executive leadership can be the difference between a company that struggles and one that soars.
Leadership training programs routinely emphasize the importance of integrity and trust between leaders and those they lead.
Trust is the spark and integrity is the fuel in the engine of team productivity.
Integrity is a trait that’s hard to define, but not hard to recognize. It is a way of demonstrating wholeness and soundness. When people see integrity, they are drawn to it, and when they see it in leaders, they are more likely to follow them.
Trust is closely related to integrity because both trust and integrity indicate that you believe someone can be relied upon. You can rely upon them to be who they say they are, to demonstrate what they say they believe, and to relieve others of the burden of wondering whether they are honorable. And two of the best ways of demonstrating integrity and trustworthiness are practicing empathy and setting a good example.
Empathy: The “Soft” Skill Most People Acquire the Hard Way
It’s unfortunate that empathy is classified as a “soft” skill, not because soft skills are somehow inferior to “hard” skills, but because developing empathy usually requires dealing with hardship in some form. The word empathy comes from root words meaning “in” and “feeling.” Having empathy means you can figuratively put yourself in another’s shoes and understand why they feel the way they do.
A 2018 study by researchers at Texas A&M University found that empathetic leadership improves follower behavior and performance. Talking to a leader who appears to have no understanding of where you’re coming from (and no desire to understand) is demoralizing and tears down trust. And without trust, leadership falls flat.
Consistently Setting an Example Cultivates Trust
Setting a good example also builds trust and strengthens the bond between leaders and followers. Few things destroy trust faster than seeing someone you admire doing something they say is wrong, or that they won’t tolerate. It opens up all sorts of questions about what else they may be deceptive about.
Researchers studied the specific example of “cyberloafing,” or goofing off online during work hours. Specifically, in workplaces where cyberloafing was frowned-upon, how leaders behaved had a significant influence on how rank-and-file workers behaved. In other words, when leaders engaged in cyberloafing, everyone else was likely to do the same.
When leaders goof off at work, everyone else feels empowered to do so.
While cyberloafing can be a minor infraction, the effect of example on this behavior leads to questions of the importance of example in other behaviors. Actively demonstrating values through behavior may be a “quieter” form of leadership, but the effects speak loudly and clearly.
Empathy and Example Humanize Leadership
Empathy and example show that leaders are human beings and not just people who have obtained an impressive job title. Leadership coaching often involves working on behaviors that humanize leaders to those who report to them, so that trust and loyalty grow. And leadership development programs that neglect the value of empathy and example let participants down because leadership devoid of empathy and example is hollow.
Whether or not you have a job title associated with leadership, you owe it to those you work with as colleagues, those you supervise, and those you report to, to demonstrate empathy and set an example through your actions. The strongest organizations share bonds built on trust, which is something that takes time to build. Empathy and a strong example are two essential building blocks.
Excellent leadership coaching is never about shortcuts, or about “looking like” a leader so people will follow. It’s about doing the actual work required so that people are inspired to follow. Ultimately you can’t fake fundamental values like empathy and trustworthiness, and those who do eventually see how flimsy and fragile unearned trust is.
Workplace diversity means the inclusion of people from a range of backgrounds, of different ages, races, genders, and nationalities. It also means the inclusion of people with disabilities.
As the workforce becomes more inclusive, leadership must reflect diversity in leader choice and in leadership practices.
Tangible and intangible benefits come from a workforce that is diverse. It only makes sense that a diverse workforce allows employers to offer more solutions to customers, because of the range of ideas and practices contained within the company.
Creativity is enhanced when the workforce comes from different backgrounds and life experiences. Teams that are heterogeneous promote greater “cross-fertilization” of ideas because not everyone is coming from the same real or metaphorical place. And, of course, good job candidates are drawn to companies with diverse workforces because it indicates a lower chance of experiencing employment discrimination.
Leadership That Reflects the Workforce
Team members naturally want to see company leaders that are representative of the workforce. They want to see people of their gender, age, ethnicity, and educational background represented in leadership. That’s one of the main reasons why businesses must make leadership development programs available to people who show leadership potential and drive, regardless of whether they fit into conventional ideas of what leaders “look like.”
As companies diversify their leadership, they often find leadership coaching beneficial. Learning to lead alongside people of various backgrounds may require rethinking old attitudes, learning new skills, and understanding effective communication better – tasks that leadership coaches are uniquely well-equipped to address.
Characteristics That Transcend Demographics Matter Most
A 2018 study by Barry Posner of Santa Clara University found that while people attach importance to leadership that reflects their demographic characteristics, more important were underlying leadership characteristics including honesty, competence, inspiration, and a forward-looking attitude.
The good news is that those leadership characteristics aren’t limited to one demographic type. Businesses that have always (intentionally or not) looked for emerging leaders within a narrow range of demographic characteristics have every reason to expand their view of “leadership material” and offer leadership development programs accordingly.
Definitions of “leadership material” must be made based on current business reality rather than outdated notions.
There are many different leadership styles, and how they are used should depend on something more than “how we’ve always done it.” Whether a workplace uses autocratic leadership, participative leadership, transformational leadership or some other leadership style should depend on factors including the size of the organization, what type of business it is, the prevailing work culture, and organizational goals.
Assuming that a business uses a leadership style (or a collection of leadership styles depending on its size and how it is organized) that is appropriate for the workforce and its goals, it will get the best leadership results when all leaders demonstrate honesty, transparency, fairness, and strong communication. Without these, leadership will not be as effective as it could be otherwise.
Leadership coaching works with leaders to identify skills gaps and leadership blind spots, as well as goals and objectives. The most successful leadership coaches are the ones who help leaders make the greatest positive difference in their leadership. Elevating leadership capability often requires that leaders work on key characteristics like honesty, transparency, fairness, and great communication, and leadership coaches have the tools and techniques that facilitate this.
There’s no question that trying to run a modern business based on leadership techniques that worked 50 years ago is short-sighted at best and dangerous at worst. Leadership development programs for today’s workforce cannot ignore the diversity in the workforce and in the surrounding world. Success requires both developing leaders who are representative of the people they lead and helping them develop the underlying characteristics of great leaders and teaching them how to put those characteristics to work.
If you’re interested in developing leadership in a changing workforce, I encourage you to check out my books. In particular, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential is designed for leaders at all levels and addresses the many challenges they face in achieving and sustaining exceptional operating results.
The existence of surveillance at work and in many aspects of everyday life is hardly a surprise.
Most employees recognize the tremendous value of the data they handle on the job.
Young adults of today don’t remember a time before the internet, and people of all ages willingly hand over masses of personal data every day through their online interactions and social media participation. Most of these people realize that the social platforms they love are mining their content around the clock, creating amazingly detailed digital dossiers that are used primarily in the targeting of advertising.
So why is surveillance in the workplace such a sticky topic?
People want to be trusted inherently, and committed professionals may balk internally at the thought that their employers know exactly what they’re doing on company-issued devices. At the same time, data has become a tremendously valuable corporate asset, and breaches or leaks of data can be devastating.
Digital surveillance in the workplace is a reality, often for good reason. And it’s important that leaders understand its implications and their influence on whether employee monitoring delivers what it promises. In fact, leadership development programs that ignore digital employee monitoring and its effects are missing a key element of workplace operation – one that can cause major problems if ignored.
Leadership Transparency about Monitoring Is Paramount
Computer monitoring can take on the qualities of the “elephant in the room” that everyone ignores unless leaders are honest and transparent about its existence and the reasoning behind it. Conveniently ignoring the fact that a company uses employee monitoring may keep the open push-back to a minimum, but you can rest assured that the frontline employees talk about it and want answers.
It’s up to leadership to provide those answers, as uncomfortable as they might be. People may not be aware of how valuable the data they handle every day is, and they may see surveillance as just another method for leadership to make frontline workers stay in their lanes. By communicating what is being monitored and more importantly, why it is being monitored, leaders can prevent long-term problems with employee disengagement and hostility.
Being forthright and honest about monitoring, consequences, and enforcement can prevent long-term problems.
Fairness and Consistency of Enforcement Crucial
Equally important is that monitoring be used consistently and across the board. In other words, if the computer use of the entry-level engineer is monitored, then the computer use of the department head or vice president of technology’s computer use should be monitored too. Moreover, the consequences for breaching company policy should be applied with absolute fairness. Any other approach will kill morale and has the potential to drive away key employees that you dearly want to keep.
And the company’s entire approach to surveillance and monitoring should be reviewed periodically. You should monitor only the activity that warrants it, and inform all affected employees that you do so. For example, GPS tracking of company-issued laptops and phones makes sense because companies need to know where their property is, and tracking can be helpful in the event of theft. Employees need to know what is being monitored and why, and training sessions that spell it out clearly prevent misunderstandings and help employees understand why it is necessary.
Honesty about the Presence of Surveillance Is Non-Negotiable
Read any book, blog post, or article about leadership and you’ll see that honesty and transparency are two of the most important qualities leaders can have. In a business world where employee monitoring is often necessary to protect company property and company secrets, leaders must be prepared to communicate the fact that it’s taking place and why.
Leadership development programs and leadership coaching can help when companies want to proactively build understanding with employees about monitoring, and they can help when company leaders have mishandled the conversation about monitoring and want to remedy the situation. Any leadership development program worth its salt will emphasize honesty and transparency, and leadership coaching is frequently employed specifically for assisting leaders with their communication skills.
It’s not easy keeping pace with technological developments in the workplace, but it’s essential because of the effects they have on overall corporate culture. I invite you to check out my books, particularly Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention. Excellent training, strong communication, and honesty up and down the corporate ladder have always been crucial to healthy and vibrant corporate culture, and the reality of workplace surveillance only makes those practices more important.
It may seem ironic that in a workplace experiencing ever-increasing digitization, it is the human qualities of leaders that appear to make the most difference.
Never underestimate the power of human connection in a digital workplace.
This is not to say that leaders don’t have to worry about learning new technologies, because everyone does. It means that the human element to leadership, the things that can’t be made into an algorithm, are if anything more important in the digital workplace than they were in pre-digital times.
There are many reasons for this. Before digitization, people were forced to interact with each other directly. Assignments for the typical desk worker arrived in their office mailbox or were verbally given during meetings rather than arriving via email or on digital calendars. The look on a supervisor’s face when they took the first look at a report or graph conveyed a lot about how well work was received.
Today’s teams are often geographically scattered and communicate electronically much of the time. Yet it’s still important to know there is an actual human overseeing things, and that clients have faces and names. In other words, leadership today requires having strong human-to-human skills – perhaps more than ever.
Resistance to Digitization Is Futile
Digitization won’t stop and trying to prevent it from encroaching on processes that have traditionally been manual only leads to problems. People are used to using digital technology around the clock, in their personal lives as well as at work, and insistence on manual or antiquated processes can lead to “shadow IT,” where employees use their own technology to get things done faster. While this can be a good thing, it can also be bad, particularly in terms of network security. Digitization and automation initiatives may receive some push-back from less technically-oriented employees, but avoiding digitization and automation ultimately leads to worse outcomes.
From “Command and Control” to “Influence”
Leadership coaching programs in the old days were predicated on a “command and control” leadership structure. Command and control may have a place in some leadership decisions, but the many startups that have exploded with growth in recent years indicate that leadership based on influence is more powerful in today’s workforce.
Strong communication skills, excellent emotional intelligence, and good critical thinking skills are emerging as the best leadership skills to have in an age of digital disruption, as newer titans like Google have found. Consequently, businesses must develop new leadership performance measures for work environments that are more collaborative, experimental, and risk-tolerant.
New performance measures may be needed to accommodate new leadership and work styles.
There is no “There” There
Leadership development programs today must not promote the idea that leadership ability is something you achieve and then possess for all time. As technology continues to evolve, so too will strong leaders continue to evolve. Obtaining a corner office and resting on laurels may have worked fifty years ago, but not today. Leadership in a digital world of business has no endpoint, and leaders must not pursue leadership thinking that once they reach a certain level that no further development will be required of them.
Trustworthiness, Transparency, Honesty, Compassion Eternally Important
But while execution of leadership may be different today (and different again tomorrow), the fundamental qualities that all great leaders have to remain constant. A leader who has all the digital skills in the world, and who embraces technological change while forgetting about trustworthiness, transparency, honesty, and compassion won’t last.
It’s important that today’s leadership development programs differentiate between what is constant (like the aforementioned qualities) and what is changing (essentially everything else), and prepare leaders for roles where continuous learning and continual improvement of vital skills like communication are the norms.
The increasingly digital and automated workforce relies on the human nature of leadership perhaps more than ever. Teams may be physically scattered, and they may rely on computers, robotics, and artificial intelligence to be able to do their work, but that doesn’t mean they can be completely divorced from the humanity of the workplace.
The leaders who best understand this, who commit to maintaining the bedrock human characteristics of strong leaders while embracing technology, are the ones who are best positioned for long-term success – both for themselves and their organizations. I encourage you to learn more about my executive coaching and leadership training programs, which are based on both timeless leadership principles and commitment to continual improvement and learning.
If you’ve been in the workforce long enough, you have undoubtedly had a leader who was perceived like The Almighty: invisible and omnipotent.
The mysterious leader who is an unknown quantity due to a lack of communication can cause tremendous problems in the long term.
While there are probably people who dream of having a laissez-faire boss, the fact is, bosses who are cut off and uncommunicative are in many ways worse than bosses who regularly find fault, complain, and criticize. Leaders who are completely laissez-faire ultimately take value out of the organization (because they are often well compensated financially) without putting value into the organization. When all is said and done, people cannot follow someone they can’t see and don’t communicate with.
Connectedness Does Not Equal Communicativeness
There’s little excuse for avoiding communication since we have more communication technologies available than ever. But having the means of communication doesn’t mean that communication actually takes place. And communication is one of the most – some would say the most – important qualities a leader can have. What good are brilliant ideas if they go uncommunicated? How can team members improve and give their best efforts if they never receive feedback of any kind from their leaders?
Why Leaders Avoid Communicating
Perhaps the main reason some leaders avoid communicating is that they don’t have to. It’s easy for the non-communicative boss to fly under the radar. They may not receive the accolades that their more communicative peers do, but they don’t draw the criticism and scrutiny that leaders with more obvious shortcomings do.
In HR and at the very highest levels of leadership, there’s often plenty to take care of already, and a leader who is abusive or who makes bad decisions is the one those higher up will focus their attention on while the silent leader continues along, almost invisible.
Lack of Feedback Considered Worse than Critical Feedback
In the short term, a leader who is, say, a raging narcissist, can cause major stress for those under their leadership. But in the long term, the leader who doesn’t communicate does more damage. At least the leader who communicates dissatisfaction loudly is a known quantity. Who knows what to think about a leader who is sealed off and non-communicative? Being yelled at is tremendously stressful, of course, but it is the silent leader who degrades job satisfaction over the longest time period, according to a 2014 Norwegian study.
Training and Coaching Key to Developing Communication Skills
Training and coaching together are the keys to developing excellent communication skills.
Training in communication (which is not the same thing as training in presentation) is the key to overcoming the main problem of the uncommunicative boss. It should cover verbal and written communication and help people choose the right communication mode for the situation.
Perhaps more importantly, coaching, which involves practice of communication skills in realistic scenarios, is key. It’s one thing to know how to do something, but quite another to take that knowledge, turn it into a skill, and sharpen that skill to the point where it becomes second nature. In fact, executive coaches routinely work with executives whose communication skills need improvement.
Executive coaching frequently involves work on communication skills. Many leaders in particular hate being the bearer of bad news, even if it is constructive and will result in improvement. Executive coaches are able to not only help executives overcome communication problems, but also practice them to the point where knowing the right communication tactic for the situation becomes automatic.
Ineffective leadership comes in many forms, including leaders who are unnecessarily harsh and tactless, leaders who more concerned with being friendly with followers than actually leading them, and leaders who cruise along undetected because they don’t bother communicating with their followers.
Top-level leaders don’t need to go searching for trouble where none exists, but they must not forget about the leaders they never notice. It’s possible these leaders are doing their job splendidly and don’t seek out attention. But it’s also possible that they are absentee leaders who don’t think they need to practice strong communication now that they have an impressive job title.
If you’re interested in learning more about what strong leadership requires, I invite you to check out my books and read more about my executive coaching and leadership training services. In particular, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential addresses good and bad leadership characteristics, what they mean, and how to strengthen assets while overcoming problems.
The word “culture” traces its roots (appropriately) to agriculture. It comes from the Latin word “cultura”, which directly refers to the act of preparing the earth for crops and also encompasses the act of care and guarding.
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the word “culture” became associated with cultivation through education, as well as refinement and improvement. In many of today’s contexts, the word could often be replaced by “zeitgeist,” or the defining spirit of an organization at a given time. But it’s important that organizational leaders look deeper than zeitgeist to understand the underlying elements that give a particular organization at a particular time its unique spirit.
Strong culture requires good environmental conditions and regular tending, just like a garden.
Culture develops in any cohesive organization, whether formally or informally. While it may seem most benevolent to allow culture to develop organically, that is rarely the best approach. The culture that develops organically among a small group of friends is one thing. The culture that grows unchecked within a business is quite another.
Shaping culture is something leaders do. They don’t dictate culture, but similar to how a gardener shapes hedges so they’re maximally functional in all senses, leaders shape and guide corporate culture.
Strong Company Culture
Strong company culture is in general superior to weak company culture. If you have ever been on a team or worked for a company with strong cohesiveness and team spirit, you understand this. But let’s take another look at the word “culture.” It’s also where the word “cult” comes from. A culture that is too strong, too managed, and too rigid turns intelligent, capable people into little more than robots (albeit robots with an overwhelming sense of duty and purpose).
Charisma in a leader is generally a good thing because great leaders inspire their followers to achieve their own greatness. However, when charisma mutates into control, good and naturally flourishing parts of a culture may be chopped off and discarded. New ideas may be rejected without thought. Everything becomes about “the culture,” and ultimately that can doom a business.
Strong, thriving company culture is balanced. It means that the people involved have aligned goals and work toward a common, overriding mission. But it also means that they are free to use their brains. They’re free to innovate and have their own ideas. It means that people have appropriate levels of autonomy.
Weak Company Culture
Weak company culture is distressingly common. A business with a weak culture is little more than a place to go to work in order to get paid. People are content to do what is expected of them, but there’s not a keen understanding of the company mission and goals. Therefore, the conditions aren’t right for growth and achievement.
Company cultures are often weak because founders and/or leaders shirk their responsibility of tilling and enriching the soil of company culture. Or maybe leaders make an initial statement about what they want the company culture to be but then fail to do the work necessary to make it happen. The result is a business that does what is necessary but fails to move forward in a way that it should.
Another problem with weak company culture is that it makes it easier for bad elements of culture to take root and grow. Maybe a department head provides weak leadership, and as a result, a power-hungry department member takes it upon themselves to create a self-serving culture. It’s a recipe for morale problems, difficult recruiting, and high staff turnover.
How to Know if Change Is Necessary
In a healthy company, slight cultural changes happen frequently, simply because people grow and learn, staff members come and go, and because the world at large is always changing. So cultural change on a low level is always going on in a healthy organization.
But sometimes a major corporate culture transformation is in order, and often leaders don’t realize this until things have become difficult. Maybe staff turnover has increased steadily and nobody has bothered to figure out why. Or maybe a leader has for whatever reason chosen to shirk their leadership responsibilities causing chaos among those being led.
It’s not always easy to see when significant culture change is necessary, but the signs can be recognized by leaders who listen and who track key metrics like productivity, efficiency, staff turnover, and revenues. Naturally, any of these metrics can fall off due to reasons other than cultural problems, but when they drop seemingly for no reason, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at culture and learn whether it’s time for significant changes.
Weak or bad culture is often expressed by a number of factors.
Push-Back from Team Members
Cultural change initiatives will experience push-back from some people. It’s inevitable. Even in bad company culture, there will be people who have managed to create their own little fiefdoms and power positions, and they will be reluctant to give them up. There will also be people who have been working on autopilot for a long time who will be annoyed that they may be required to start putting thought into their work. But if you know things are bad and you experience significant push-back, it’s a sign that cultural changes are needed and not a moment too soon.
Dealing with push-back requires understanding why it is happening and addressing the underlying issues. There will almost inevitably be some people who bow out immediately and resign, unable or unwilling to put in the work necessary to improve the culture. That’s too bad, but it can’t be avoided.
Just remember that when corporate culture is bad enough to affect things like revenue and productivity, that everyone notices it, and there will be plenty of people who are relieved that something is being done about it. Major cultural change requires effort on everyone’s part, but those who genuinely care about the organization, its goals, and their future in it will be willing to overcome their reluctance.
Results of Positive Culture Change
What can an organization expect from well-intentioned, well-planned, and well-executed cultural change? Plenty:
Better employee retention – because workers who feel valued and know they are contributing to organizational success tend to stay around longer
Improved reputation – among existing employees, potential employees, the industry, and the business world
Higher productivity – because team members are motivated to give their best when they believe their mission is worthwhile
Higher quality of products and services – because companies that value high standards and provide their employees with the right atmosphere and tools for fulfilling those standards tend to improve excellence in all work categories
A strong, positive corporate culture means you spend less time hiring and training new people, and when you do hire, you have a better candidate pool among which to choose. Have you ever noticed that the companies on “Best Places to Work” rankings tend to be highly successful ones? The bottom line is, when people feel good about going to work and about what their company does, they’re more willing to go that extra mile to achieve goals and apply excellence than when work is just a means to a paycheck.
Necessary Conditions for Change
A defined starting point, goals, and buy-in are necessary conditions for successful change.
To know how to get to your destination, you have to know where you are now.
To find your way where you want to go, you first need to know your starting point. A clear understanding of your existing culture – warts and all – is necessary before you begin trying to improve the culture. Just as the master gardener knows to test the soil to learn which nutrients are lacking and which are abundant, the leaders initiating corporate culture change must get to know the current conditions, including what’s missing and what’s overrepresented.
Goals are necessary for positive cultural change. What do you want to be able to say about your organization one year from now? What headaches do you want to eliminate as much as possible through culture change? How much revenue growth is reasonable to expect? What percentage drop in employee turnover is your goal? Without goals, cultural change efforts will fall flat.
And finally, for cultural change to succeed, you must have buy-in from people at every level of the organization, from the CEO to the entry-level employee. You can’t expect every employee to like everything about the change process, but you must be confident in their support.
Culture Change and Change Management
Change management has to do with discipline. You can’t make a plan for cultural change, then say “Go!” and expect it to happen like a row of dominoes falling. While change management in practice is unique to every organization, it typically involves the following steps:
Identifying groups and individuals who will change
Identifying how those groups and individuals must change (whether in terms of responsibilities, shifts, job titles, etc.)
Creation of a customized plan for ensuring affected employees receive the leadership, training, and coaching they need to make necessary changes
Adapting project or process management to accommodate cultural change
Monitoring the change process and addressing issues as they arise
To define cultural change, you must begin with your end goals in mind. The definition process itself involves:
Evaluating your current culture and how it performs
Clarifying your initial vision of change in terms of leveraging strengths and addressing weaknesses
Creating a plan to communicate how everyone will work together to address weaknesses and double down on strengths
Clearly defining values and expected behaviors for “living your values”
Alignment of goals defines how everyone will work together toward the organization’s mission:
Defining and sharing three to five actionable strategic priorities to focus on
Engaging the team in defining the objectives that lead to accomplishing goals. Such objectives may include better accountability, tracking key metrics, or regular recognition of excellence.
Defining a handful of key metrics that support goals and performance priorities
Defining goals and planning how to meet objectives and milestones is a crucial part of cultural change.
Managing change is where the rubber meets the road. It is about the discipline to see change through. Steps typically include:
Developing a system to track the status of change
Ensuring effective communication
Facilitating positive collaboration
Building on motivation throughout the change process through feedback, recognition, transparency, and celebration of success, as well as addressing issues as they arise rather than letting them smolder
What Culture Change Consultants Do
Culture change consultants shepherd client companies through the process of cultural change. They don’t perform or direct change, but they help client organization leadership plan, execute, and manage change based on proven performance outcomes.
Assessment is an important skill of culture change consultants because understanding the root causes of cultural issues is paramount. Typically, they use a range of cultural assessment instruments, supplemented with conversations with client organization personnel, as well as comparative industry analysis to deliver an accurate picture of the client’s strengths and weaknesses.
Culture change consultants also know how to measure and quantify culture change so clients understand where they began, where they ended up, and what factors were most important in the transition.
Effective culture change consultation requires a number of key skills.
Some culture change consultants offer specialized services surrounding safety. When cultural factors influence safety practices, the results can be devastating. Culture change consultants who specialize in safety issues specifically help with culture change designed to improve overall organizational safety.
Tools and Techniques Used by Culture Change Consultants
Most culture change consultants are equipped with a collection of tools that can be used at various phases of cultural change to assess current status, map out plans, and track changes. Many of them begin their work with client organizations by administering surveys and interviews designed to produce a clear picture of where the organization is at, culturally speaking.
During the change process, consultants may administer additional assessments to measure progress toward goals, and when the relationship between the consultant and client organization ends, they will likely perform additional assessments and measurements to gain more clarity on which goals have been met, which haven’t been met, lessons learned, and best practices.
In addition, some culture change consultants offer services that organizations can take advantage of even if they do not choose to hire a consultant. These services may include courses, self-administered assessments, workshops, and keynote speeches. Some may offer specialized courses, such as courses on safety culture assessment and improvement.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Change?
Change is inevitable, and resisting it is ultimately futile. But change management is necessary also to keep the “change” mentality from getting out of control. It is possible for organizations to try to implement too much change at once. When this happens, the upheaval feels permanent, rather than temporary, and team members may feel as if they cannot gain their footing before something else important changes.
Even organizations, for which major cultural change is necessary for survival, have to tackle change in a methodical, measured way, or they risk experiencing all of the bad outcomes of bad culture all at once. For example, say a company is mired in complacency to the point where even the simplest innovations are met with contempt. Should that company decide to force innovation company-wide, all at once, they will probably see a lot of people jump ship altogether rather than try to navigate the major changes ahead.
Too much change too quickly can make things worse when there are cultural problems. Major cultural changes can happen, but they cannot happen overnight. Implementing a series of smaller changes in pursuit of major cultural change will generally be more effective than scrapping everything and starting over.
Culture change consultants exist because culture change is hard. Even when everyone in an organization knows that things must change, actually making those changes is challenging and tiring. With the right culture change consultant, however, a plan can be created to identify specific changes, to prioritize them, and to map out a path to making them happen.
Culture change consultants know the importance of a strong, positive culture and know how to help organizations achieve it.
Culture change depends on buy-in from everyone, but it must be championed by top leaders to have the greatest positive effect. A surprisingly big majority of employees thinks that culture change is needed in their organization, and this alone should prompt corporate leadership to plan to regularly assess company culture and be prepared to change elements of it.
Leadership in today’s business environment must be willing to change and adapt because the world outside is changing so rapidly. Organizations that stubbornly cling to old ways of doing things may hang on for a while as they are, but eventually, change will happen whether they like it or not. Far better for these organizations to understand, embrace, plan for, and manage change, particularly if corporate culture is weak or negative.
For years, business innovators and experts have emphasized the importance of corporate culture. They also know that culture is a living entity, and something that will inevitably change over time. It is the organizations that value positive culture, that test the soil, till the ground, and pull out the weeds that will have organizations that thrive and grow. If you’re interested into delving deeper into the concept of corporate culture and cultural transformation, I encourage you to check out my books, particularly Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention.
Glossary of Terms
Best practices – things an organization does that consistently lead to good outcomes. In terms of culture change, best practices are the things the organization does that lead to measurably better organizational culture.
Change management – the tools, techniques, and processes used to keep change on track so that the changes lead to better business outcomes
Corporate culture – beliefs and behaviors that influence how employees interact with each other and with leaders, and how business results are accomplished
Culture change – the process of deliberately assessing baseline culture, defining necessary changes, and taking the steps necessary to make those changes real
Culture change consultant – a professional skilled in the practice of guiding organizations through the many processes involved in culture change and helping them ensure the best possible outcomes
Lessons learned – documented instances of when things go wrong, what caused them, and why, and what the organization can do to ensure they don’t happen in the future
It’s safe to say that everyone wants to make their organization better in 2019. The two factors that will do the most to ensure this happens are leadership and organizational culture.
Strong leadership plus strong culture equals strong performance.
And really, there’s little point in addressing one without addressing the other, because the two are so closely intertwined. Leadership sets the tone and the pace, and leadership that fails to do so can’t complain when things don’t get better. Closing leadership gaps and striving to improve corporate culture in 2019 should be top priorities for organizations intent on making this year their best ever.
Closing Leadership Gaps
Leadership gaps are like gaps in a fence or hedge. Sure, most of the fence is still doing its job, but that gap can cause problems. Livestock could get out, or predators could get in, and they all have a way of finding those gaps and exploiting them. Likewise, people exploit leadership gaps, often to push their own agenda.
The ability to fill leadership gaps depends heavily on leadership development. Potential leaders should be identified long before they’re expected to fill a leadership role, and in the intervening time, leadership training programs can go a long way toward ensuring they develop the skills they will need. Sometimes leadership gaps are unexpected, and not having to scramble to fill a leadership position is like having the tools and materials ready to properly fix a gap in a fence: it’s done right the first time, so you can move forward with confidence.
Maintaining Strong Company Culture
A Deloitte study found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees consider corporate culture to be important to business success. And it’s no mystery why the companies listed on “Best Place to Work” rankings are generally highly successful. A strong, positive corporate culture makes recruiting employees (and leaders) easier, increases employee loyalty and engagement, promotes better collaboration and better performance, and keeps morale high.
When people look forward to coming to work, they’re likely to give their best efforts to keep it that way.
Improving organizational culture isn’t a one-time project, but something that must be tended to regularly, like a garden. Problems with culture don’t necessarily indicate that it’s time to scrap the current culture and start over, yet leaders should not hesitate to ask employees what they like and don’t like and how they think it could change. Likewise, frontline employees should not be afraid to speak up about elements of corporate culture they believe are harmful.
Leadership and Culture Interdependent
Excellent leadership is necessary for creating and maintaining a strong corporate culture, and strong corporate culture helps ensure strong leadership. Leadership coaching can be a key to empowering leaders to take an honest look at company culture and their role in it. The skills that leaders develop through leadership coaching – including communication skills, delegation skills, organizational skills, and decision-making skills – are precisely the ones needed to learn all about company culture as it is and to map out a plan to bring it to a higher level.
For better or worse, leadership and culture feed off each other. Bad leadership tends to reinforce bad cultural elements in a negative spiral, while good leadership tends to reinforce good cultural elements. For maximum company success measured across a range of indicators, you need both ingredients, just as you need both heat and seasoning to get the maximum flavor from a healthy, delicious meal.
With a brand new year stretching ahead of us, don’t just pay lip service to the concepts of culture and leadership. Learn your strong and weak points with each and make an actionable plan to improve both. You’ll not only make the workplace better for everyone, but you’ll also improve performance and are likelier to wrap up this year with a healthier bottom line. If you want to dive deeper into the topics of leadership and corporate culture, I encourage you to check out my books, which cover these topics in greater detail.
Some creative professionals feel as if they have to settle for something “less than.” As in, “Maybe I earn less than my friends in business, but I get to do what I love.”
Creative businesses are still businesses.
It doesn’t have to be that way for accomplished creatives who want more. Actually having the talent and being able to put it to work are table stakes for succeeding as a creative professional. For most, however, additional skills are necessary. Creative businesses are, after all, businesses, and they operate on fundamental business principles.
Some creative professionals turn to executive coaching to bridge the perceived gap between creativity and business, and often what they find out is that many of the same principles govern both – they’re just put to use in different ways.
Drive and Inspiration in Creative Professions
Inspiration and drive power creativity, whether it’s words on paper, paint on canvas, or custom clothing on the backs of famous people. Creativity is a gift, but it is developed through practice. Patrons of creative arts simply won’t wait around until a particular artist is inspired to create something for them, because they don’t have to be patient. Artists, writers, and musicians are everywhere, and with very few exceptions, it is their clients – the interior designers, showrunners, producers, etc. – who call the shots. So drive and inspiration are necessary, but not sufficient for success in the creative professions.
Drive and Inspiration in Business
Likewise, drive and inspiration power business. With technological advances, inspiration can power innovation faster than used to be possible, and as we all know, nobody gets strong, sustained business results without drive. Business coaching is about helping clients understand themselves better so they can see what’s holding them back, and then mapping out a plan to reach goals more effectively and efficiently. It’s not that big a stretch to see how business coaches can help creative professionals improve their performance, boost their earnings, and put a strong foundation underneath the creative factory inside their brains.
Discipline Can Bridge the Two
People don’t like to think about discipline, because the word derives its meaning from old words indicating suffering, teaching, and even martyrdom. But if you dig a little deeper and unearth the word “discipline” comes from – disciple – it’s not really gloom and doom at all. A disciple is someone who follows someone else for the purpose of learning. Disciples’ purpose is to grasp important concepts intellectually and analyze them thoroughly.
Business coaches can help creatives learn to thrive in the world of business.
This isn’t to say that the coach-client relationship is like that of a master and disciple. But that the techniques used by the best business coaches help professionals, including creative professionals, know where the metaphorical guardrails are, and why certain roads help them reach success faster than others. The benefits to the talented creative professional can be significant: better understanding of how successful business interactions work, knowledge of techniques that smooth out and accelerate business transactions, and greater security in which to practice their creative skills.
Business coaches who work with creative individuals and creative companies are there to take strategic actions for sustainable success. They’re not about circumscribing creativity in the name of business success (because that doesn’t work over the long term), but about solving practical challenges that face creative professionals determined to succeed in a business environment.
Today, even the most traditional business coaches understand that cookie-cutter solutions simply don’t work for all businesses and all clients. Business coaching has taken on a far more personalized and customized approach for a good reason: it works. And some business coaches are focusing their personalized services on creative professionals, helping them maximize their unique strengths, develop workable strategies, and gain the results they want.
Are you a creative professional who is determined to practice your skills with sustained success? If so, I humbly recommend that you check out my books, which cover key topics like performance management, talent leadership, and corporate culture. The most successful businesses on the planet understand the role of creativity in developing business solutions and innovations, so it’s not like business and creativity operate in different universes. In today’s connected, tech-driven world, there’s simply no reason why the creative professions shouldn’t fully participate in business success.
Many companies invest in executive coaching because they’ve tried it and they know that it produces positive results and a genuine return on investment.
Companies that invest in coaching are actually investing in results.
Some companies may be reticent to trying executive business coaching for fear that the investment won’t pay off. Plus, how do you measure whether coaching has been successful? Top coaches regularly field questions about this. After all, coaching isn’t cheap, and measuring the ROI on executive business coaching isn’t as straightforward as measuring ROI on a new television ad campaign.
Ideally, coaching clients should be prepared to use a well-rounded collection of metrics, both qualitative and quantitative, to measure coaching success and show the company that yes, executive business coaching does get positive results. Here are some ways clients do that.
Cycle Time from Idea to End-User
Before investing in executive business coaching, how long did it take for something to go from being an idea to being a product in the hands of end-users? That “product,” of course, could be a physical product, or it could be an app, a new business process, software, or some other manifestation of an idea.
Similarly, how long does it take now that the coaching process has been completed for something to go from being an idea to being something people use? One of the purposes of coaching is for leaders to learn where roadblocks exist, which ones are absolutely necessary (to keep spending in line, for example), which ones could be eliminated altogether, and which ones could be recast as “speed bumps” rather than hard roadblocks.
Surveys and 360-Degree Feedback
Many coaches begin and end their coaching relationships by using surveys and other instruments to gather 360-degree feedback about the coaching client. In some cases, this feedback comes not only from the coaching client individually, but also from peers, direct reports, and supervisors in order to gain a comprehensive view of the client’s starting point.
Repeating use of these feedback tools at the end of the coaching relationship can be eye-opening. Often, they show that the changes that have taken place not only positively affect the client, but also the others who work with the client on a daily basis.
Interviewing a client’s peers, direct reports, and superiors before and after coaching can offer powerful insights.
Clients Who Keep a Journal
Journals aren’t as neat and easy to take in a test or survey results, but they can nonetheless provide an important metric for the success of executive business coaching. That’s why many coaches ask that their clients keep a regular journal, whether on paper or electronically. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Committing to ten minutes every day of thinking about how the coaching process is shaping their decisions can end up providing a wealth of information and a powerful indicator of how far a coaching client has come. Anyone who regularly keeps a journal can vouch that looking back at entries from several weeks or months ago can be a powerful way of seeing just how much things change.
Good Old Productivity
Productivity measures before and after coaching can offer strong evidence of the power of executive business coaching. Coaching is about solving problems, and even if those problems aren’t directly related to productivity, they can affect productivity. If the pre-coaching team puts out five products over a period of a week and the post-coaching team puts out seven products in a week, that’s a strong indication that coaching has had a measurable positive effect, assuming everything else was held constant.
It’s important to measure outcomes with coaching, both for the benefit of the client and for the benefit of the coach. Today’s executive coaches are expected to produce results. The best ones know this, and they’re prepared before their first meeting with their client. No company wants to waste time or money, and so they’re smart to consider how they will measure the effect of executive business coaching even before they choose a coach. To learn more about how coaching works in practice, I invite you to check out more about my coaching services.